More photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskwGWK6f
Day 2 :Sept 19th
We were awake at 5am (about 11 am as per our body clocks) and after lashings of tea, we kitted up for our venture into bear country.This consisted of arming ourselves with 2 dinky sets of bear bells. A very fetching purple they were , too. I still wasn’t anywhere near over my bear anxiety but the Lake Louise hike promised an easy walk in a busy area with no bear ‘restrictions’- presumably because it was just too frequented and bears avoided it. Everything I’d read explained how bears keep out of the way of people.However, we found out that this wasn’t strictly true.As my husband always says, believe half of what you read and a quarter of what you hear.They are Apex predators and if they come upon a nice patch of juicy berries, a male in particular will not move if humans decide to enter his feeding area (by mistake).It was just as well that I DIDN’T know that when we set out, believing in blissful ignorance that the tinkling of bells and our voices would chase off any would-be predators.Otherwise, I would never have started that walk, which turned out to be absolutely superb.
The mist was swirling furiously around the snow-dusted mountains as we arrived at the Lake Louise parking area.Even at 8.15am it was going like a fair and a shock to the system. It was a fine scene though and the turquoise colour of the Lake was stunning. Wildness is missing from this much-frequented spot however and the Chateau itself is a bit of an OTT eyesore. Its manicured grounds bordering the lake are very pretty but detract from the grandeur. So it was a relief to stride out along the pavement round the shore and within minutes, find ourselves far from the madding crowd, surrounded only by silence. I always feel that to really know, appreciate and feel connected to landscape, walking is the thing. The old Latin saying– solvitur ambulando – is so true; it is indeed ‘solved by walking.’
The head of the Lake was just gorgeous. Glacier silt has formed a wide sandy basin and with the opalescent water lapping on the shore, the colours were more like those of a South Sea atoll. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the scene.It was breath-taking.
Our bear bells tinkled merrily as we began the easy angled climb on an excellent stone path which took us high above the lake into autumnal meadows and forest.It was glorious – Mount Temple , 11600ft , loomed to our left, still wreathed in cloud but the weather was improving with each step.
We were now half an hour into the walk and appeared to be the only people on the mountain. We’d been keeping up a stream of inane conversation to warn any bears of our presence but our isolation suddenly got the better of us.The beautiful meadows now looked ominous, perfect bear grazing territory. The hidden corners of the path ahead as it weaved in and out of the dark forest , weren’t inviting. We were, suddenly, spooked. Even my very macho husband looked distinctly uncomfortable.If I’d said at that point ‘let’s turn back’ I know he would have turned tail in a heartbeat.
We knew the bears were feeding 20 hours a day in September, preparing for hibernation. And we were now walking through meadows full of berry bushes. We scanned the slopes for any signs of dark animal shapes, feeling very vulnerable. We’d expected the walk to be busy with the crowds around Lake Louise but there were no crowds now.Just us. You always have such a feeling of defeat when you give up on a walk so with a major effort we pulled ourselves together, told ourselves not to be so bloody stupid and get on with it. So – MORE inane chatter as we clumped our way onwards and upwards, the path steepening as we headed into the open moraines coming down from the glaciers. I loved the country up there; the meadows made a lovely contrast to the harsh stoney slopes and bare rock and the headwalls of the big peaks were spectacular.It would have been heaven if the whole thing hadn’t been marred by an undercurrent of niggling anxiety.
A few steeper switchbacks and a slightly off-putting narrowish rock ledge with a chain (where did that come from?) and by 10am we had reached the pretty little red Teahouse sitting all on its own far above the Lake. What a fantastic spot.Sat out on its balcony (one other couple there) and had some tea and apple crumble cake and chatted to the interesting and friendly lady owner.
The teahouse is in a truly cracking location, at the bottom of a meadow and beside the forest.The big peaks – Mount Victoria, Mount Lefroy – look down on all across the glacier moraines. It had taken us about 1.5 hours up to get up here and we were pleased to see that another 30 mins or so of walking was still possible along a good track , taking us closer again to the glaciers.
The owner told us that there was indeed a female grizzly resident in the meadows above the teahouse(!) She had raised 2 cubs a couple of years ago but they hadn’t been seen lately. But she was a smart bear; whenever people came in sight she put her head down, the cubs would follow and they would march slowly off out of any possible confrontation scenario.It wasn’t the sort of apex predator behaviour more common with a big macho male grizzly. The owner reckoned that was why she had survived so long in such a relatively busy area. Of course, the minute there is any altercation between a grizzly and people, the bear tends to come off the worst (in the longer term.) I had read that one person a year is killed by grizzlies in the area – usually hikers who don’t abide by the simple rules: don’t surprise a bear; don’t run; don’t come between a female and cubs; don’t try to get close to them for photos.They are emotionally sensitive, easily stressed and you have to act very submissively and retreat quietly if you come across one. No eye contact, don’t turn your back, lots of verbal apologies in a low voice. All easier said than done, no doubt.
Black bears are less of a problem, being generally very spooked by people and likely to run off. In fact the owner had surprised one recently on a hike and it had just about tumbled down the hillside in its panic to get away from her. But a grizzly is a different animal. It will try to avoid you but it is king up there and will expect you to retreat especially if it’s feeding. An angry, irritable male grizzly has been known to attack , head-on, a CPR train which has interfered with its favourite feeding spot on the railway tracks – of course, coming off worse. It’s one of the most common places for bear fatalities.
We love wildlife but had a sort of mixed fascination and dread in relation to possibly coming across a grizzly or any bear. It was ‘into the unknown’ for us as we have nothing to contend with in Scotland’s wild country that is dangerous (apart from truly Arctic weather at times even at sea level and in summer!).
After a really interesting stop at the teahouse, which was already busying up and a visit to the (truly awful) composting eco – toilet , we headed further up the track climbing a little higher into the harsh landscape at the base of the 6 glaciers.We could now see the steep, dangerous gully that is ‘The Death Trap’ and which leads up to the renowned Abbot Hut. A well-named gully indeed, surrounded by the whiplash crack of ice breaking and moving. We had arrived now at the end of the track and it was a stunning spot. Mountain country on the grand scale. The lake itself and its crowds looked very distant now.
It had turned into a fine day as we reluctantly headed back and by the time we reached the section below the tea-house, it was like a Sunday parade. Always nice to be descending as folk huff and puff on the inclines and cheerily tell them – ‘not far now! – as they smile with gritted teeth. Ah, I know that feeling in reverse! I was amazed that many folk were clad in the simplest strappy sandals , all very casual.
We debated whether to head along to join up with the Lake Agnes path but we wanted to see Moraine Lake in good weather so headed back down.
You have to have a peek inside the Chateau though. I’d had tea and cakes in it long ago , very civilized but leaving behind the mountains and arriving bang in the middle of hordes of people, piano playing, loud chatter , jars the senses so we didn’t stay and headed back to the car. Bye bye Lake Louise. What a fine spot indeed and a memorable introduction to fairly easy Rockies hikes.
The 12 mile drive to Moraine was spectacular too and busy. The car park was mobbed when we arrived around 2pm though some folks were already heading away so we got parked ok.
We had a look at Moraine Lake Lodge which we would be staying in near the end of the week then headed up onto the Rock Pile by a good track. It was a little cloudier again but I got some good shots of this superlative Lake, which I’d always wanted to see.I’d long been mesmerized by those fantastic images you see in magazines and it certainly lived up to those. It is a stunner, though has perhaps less variety of scenery than Lake Louise being more enclosed. Couldn’t believe the mass of people everywhere though.It’s a real hotspot which does take away from the wilderness feel though like Lake Louise , it doesn’t take much walking to escape this.
We were heading back tomorrow to hike the Sentinel Pass route so decided to drive round while there was still time to see another spot which had captured me in photos, Emerald Lake, close to Field.
Arrived there about 4pm and it was quiet. We loved Emerald Lake. More open and with meadows coming down to the waters edge and a walking route right round it. There was a lovely old lodge which we went into for some tea.Very atmospheric. The little restaurant, in a great location, was closed for the season so that part of the plan was hit on the head. So we snacked on some crisps and chocolate and fruit and did a short walk round the shore. I could have spent a lot more time here.It was quieter, wilder and more serene with some spectacular mountains as a backdrop. We even saw a wood grouse, camouflaged in the forest.Beautiful place.
Back to our lovely wee cabin, a quick update on our activities to my two now – adult sons whom I always miss when we are away and who are ‘under instruction’ to keep in touch. The sunset looked nice over the mountains, hopefully a good sign for tomorrow’s weather.
Then an aperitif of sparkling rose for me and some olives and crisps then beef steaks this time, nice, though not as tasty as I’d hoped. A few nice glasses of wine to relax and think about all we’d seen. My husband, a Highlander, likes his bottle of wine at the end of the day on holiday . Me –gallons of tea and good chocolate. An excellent day.Very happy.
Next day – A Hike to Sentinel Pass